In the Continuum and Other Stories: Re-visiting dramatic elements

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1889

IN my previous submission on elements of drama, I focused mainly on Elizabethan and Classical drama.
In this new series of analysing plays in In the Continuum and Other Stories (edited by Rory Kilalea), there is need to re-visit these elements with a particular inclination towards modern drama.
In this opening article I wish to familiarise you with the background to the four plays in the anthology.
Remember always that history and ideology are key to unlocking any secrets behind any literary text.
The traditional approach to analysing drama is based on Aristotle’s dramatic elements which can be summarised as plot, language (dialogue and soliloquy), characterisation, rhythm (music and song), spectacle/props and themes.
These six elements are captured in Aristotle’s famous work, Poetics.
From the time Aristotle listed them around 335 BC, the six elements of drama have had a great influence on many Western writers, playwrights including William Shakespeare.
Nevertheless, in recent years modern film directors have strayed away from the traditional structure of the six elements, stressing some while neglecting others. This is the case you will associate with In the Continuum and other plays.
According to Aristotle, what makes a play good is the complex organic nature of the plot (whereupon a main character undergoes a drastic change in viewpoint or position).
Also, the protagonist undergoes intense pain and suffering which Aristotle said evoked emotions of fear and pity which for him are the primary goals of any literary work as they lead to catharsis.
The second element for Aristotle is character.
The ideal character for him is the one who is consistent with age, position, status and personality; one who is predictable.
In other words, a character must not exhibit unexplained sudden changes in behaviour which violates principles of consistency.
This line of perception may be adopted or rejected by modern dramatists who explore melodrama, mystery and metaphysics.
Then, whether inadvertently or intentionally, virtually every film today has several contesting concepts which Aristotle regards as themes.
Some of the most common are good versus evil, young versus old, fate versus free will and freedom versus slavery.
One can simply refer to theme as the intended message which the playwright wishes to pass on to his/her imagined community.
Any play while entertaining cannot escape the responsibility to mean.
In other words, there must always be something to teach the world whether imagined, real or incidental.
The fourth dramatic element of Aristotle is dialogue.
According to his prescription the characters’ dialogue must match their education, personality, and the situation.
Speech should be clear, yet poetic when possible and express the emotional and moral status of the one speaking.
A strict rule in Greek drama and most drama in general, is that, unlike real life where there are often several people talking over each other, only one person can be talking at a time.
Dialogue is yet another area in which modern movie makers have fallen short. The scripts of most of today’s films are full of forced, clichéd dialogue and unreal drama.
Aristotle’s fifth dramatic element is rhythm (also known as song and music).
Aristotle felt that the choir should be like an additional actor, blending in with the play to create mood.
Modern movies do a wonderful job with rhythm.
Film soundtracks far outshine the ancient methods of incorporating music into the production.
A skilled modern composer has all the tools necessary to evoke any conceivable emotion of the viewer.
The final one is spectacle.
Spectacle refers to the visual aspects of a production such as costume/dress, set, backdrop, props, make-up and special effects.
Aristotle referred to this as the ‘least artistic’ of the six elements.
Without a doubt, spectacle is the most important aspect of modern films.
As technology has advanced so have the special effects of movies.
The characteristics of modern drama are realism, naturalism and interaction between characters and the readers.
Modern drama ceased to deal with themes remote in time and place.
Modern drama gave up melodramatic romanticism and pseudo-classical remoteness, and start treating the actual life, making drama a drama of ideas. Real drama must deal with emotions.
Theatre and drama are very much part of our everyday lives.
These four plays: Belonging by Mirirai Moyo, When I Meet my Mother by Kathleen McCreery, In the Continuum by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, and Power Failure by Jide Afoylan reveal the dynamism and variety of theatre. They also reveal that from Zimbabwe to Brazil, Nigeria to the USA, societies despite their diversity share many common problems and challenges.
Annotated for schools with questions and notes by Rory Kilalea, teachers and students will find this a richly accessible text.
In the Continuum (by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter) is the story of two young women, one in Harare and the other in South Central Los Angeles, experiencing a kaleidoscopic weekend of darkly comic, life-changing revelation.
With the two actors playing all the roles, the play tells the story of parallel denials and self-discovery in a manner that while bordering on tragedy is often very funny.
Belonging (by Mirirai Moyo) tells the story of how an adventurous young hen Kuku and the hyena Bere discover shared interests and companionship that the rest of their tribe will not countenance.
In the process, the playwright explores identity and choice and shows how friendship can help us to break down stereotypes.
Power Failure (by Olugbenga Afolayan) is a lively comic drama about the potential dangers of indiscriminate power-cuts when a small boy cannot receive the hospital treatment he needs because there is no electricity.
Poking fun at the system, Jide Afolayan explores both corruption and resourcefulness as citizens struggle to survive in a place where public facilities are inadequate and subject to the vagaries of the powerful.
When I meet my Mother (by Kathleen McCreery) explores the lives, hopes and fears of a gang of under-age street kids living in a Brazilian suburb.
Narrated through eight small, but powerful voices, we experience the bonds of friendship and loyalty that develop in a small fringe society constantly under threat, from not only the forces of law and order, but from criminals and thugs. Kathleen McCreery’s long experience of working with street children in England, Ghana and South Africa, makes this play one that requires us to think about how society can support those that are marginalised.

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